I am trying to understand how to understand what is happening and keep our sanity. Some suggested rules.
1. Never take anything the administration says or does at face value.
As Jarred Bernstein points out, Trump operates it the two modes of telling an audience what they want to hear, and “trying to put perceived enemies and negotiating opponents back on their heels.” I think I would put it differently, that he and his team are always engaging in misdirection and conflict. No other strategy is comprehensible to them.
2. Remember that what he says can be a guide to what he wants, but that you can only figure it out by understanding the context.
It may be to distract attention from something. It may be a feint, so you argue and organize against what is not happening anyway. It may be designed to destroy an opponent or potential opponent. It may be for short term gratification. If you can not figure that out, it is better to ignore the statements completely. Any other way madness lies. Focus only on actions.
3. Remember the relevant context that explains the purpose is as likely to be within his own operation, as it is the world as a whole.
Most likely the motivation is the desire to avoid any centralization of power other than in himself. Bu it could also reflect a desire to delay decision, create uncertainty, or even to shift internal dynamics indirectly.
4. While there are smart people in the operation, that’s mainly an accident, so expect confusion, chaos, and massive incompetence, disguised as uniqueness.
No need to look for evidence of that.
5. Because their motives and goals are so hard to figure, expect to find it really hard to know whether the problem is the goal, the plan, or the execution.
Just remember that with this gang it is most likely to be all of them.
6. Remember that the bureaucracy always wins in the end.
They stay, you go. “Yes Mr. President.”
7. Plan to be always and repeatedly disappointed by non-Trump Republicans.
They made their fundamentally bankrupt choice long ago, and would be destroyed if they tried to change it. It is OK to use their public hesitancy to undercut Trump, but know that they will fall in line in the end, or rather will do so until #9 kicks in.
8. Never underestimate the tendency of any incoming leader, let alone this gang, to overestimate their popularity, wisdom, knowledge, skill, luck, and capacity.
There are no exceptions to this rule. The only possible one I can think of is Ike. Part of his secret was having no ego needs. Compare and contrast.
9. When the tipping point comes close, it will suddenly accelerate very quickly.
Nixon was not liked by his colleagues, but he was respected. Most, except the business leaders being shaken down for contributions, had no real reason to fear hm. Almost no one wants Trump in. They are trying to get what they can out of him. When the calculus of interest changes, so will their public posture, and very quickly.
10. Never underestimate the power of the intelligence “community” to protect itself.
And, know that you will never see how it actually operated to do so. Remember, “Deep Throat” was Deputy Director of the FBI.
11. No President can reverse the tides of globalization, any more than Canute could stop the waves. A leader could help mitigate the effects, but not with the policies this one advocates.
History is divided into 1) those who understood the tides of history and try to take advantage of them, 2) those who did not, and tried to ignore and reverse them, and 3) those who understood, were to optimistic in their understanding of the implications, and were foiled by their over-ambition. Decide for yourself which group Trump fits into.